On an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, one of his guests, Ramit Sethi, talked about prenuptial agreements, or prenups, which are contracts signed before people get married that dictate rights to property and what happens after there is a divorce. They were both in favor of them.
It was interesting.
I don’t mean that in a snarky condescending, self-righteous way. I mean it was truly enlightening and helpful to consider.
As much as I am a huge fan of Tim Ferriss (and really enjoyed Sethi), on this subject, I disagree.
There is business in marriage. There are financials, income, taxes, losses, gains, spreadsheets, etc. Money plays a large part in the relationship and often is one of the main topics couples fight about. All true.
But marriage is not a business.
Marriage is the most intimate relationship a person can have. When done well, you will share every area of your life with the person whom you marry. You not only bare all of your body before them but also your mind and heart. You are both naked before each other. And not only are you unashamed, you are fully accepted.
You make promises to this person, ones that you won’t make in any other relationship. It involves your entire being: from head to toe, inside and out, even your soul. Marriage forms a new family between two people who were not family before the wedding. After you marry, you are intertwined in such a way that you are one. Marriage is a miracle.
The root of all marriages is a promise.
You’ve heard some version of it. Regardless of which one, all of them have very serious elements.
And perhaps you have uttered this promise before a host of witnesses solemnly swearing that you would love a person “through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, ’til death do you part.”
Love is the north star, the foundation, the root, the essence, the fuel, the center, the fountainhead, and the substance of this relationship. Do not mistake it with the feeling of love. Feelings come and go. It’s the promise of love—love in action despite your feelings– that should move marriage.
There are transactions in this relationship, but it’s not meant to be transactional. You trade kisses, insults, money, homes. But possessions should not drive it, guide it, root it, fuel it. Instead, the couple is supposed to be possessed by each other utterly and completely, not by the things they possess (or not). And since you are possessed by one another, you possess each other’s possessions.
The definition of marriage I provide may sound trite, even childish, like I just cinderella’d you, and turned a frog into a prince with a smooch. Of course, I’m not talking about the terrible mess marriage can be and often is. We all know about that. Don’t we? I’ve experienced it (I wrote about the first few years our marriage, which were ugly). I’m talking about what it should be.
But even though the love that upholds marriage isn’t a fairy tale, it can and does have happily-ever-afters.
And my point in sharing all that above is to say that marriage is meant to be ideal. It works best within the world of ought and should, and not in the world of risk mitigation, hedging, and worst case scenarios. I’m not trying to be romantic, but practical and true to the situation. Marriage is hard enough. Add escape routes and optionality into the mix, and you’re risking the very thing you want, a successful marriage. Can you imagine if someone had in their vows, “I’ll love you if you make money, are healthy, and stay good-looking. And I’ll stick around as long as I feel happy.” Something about that just doesn’t sit right.
One point made on the podcast for prenups was that every serious relationship like employee and employer, contractor and client have agreements with termination clauses that outline how you will separate if things don’t work out. So Ferriss and Sethi argue that you should have the same kind of legal protections put in place for marriages.
On the surface, that makes complete sense. Yes, protecting your assets is immensely important.
But the vows we all know so well do have a termination clause. It is death.
“Til death do you part.”
That termination clause is as grave as the grave. It’s meant to be. Because of the gravity of the relationship you are forming in marriage. Oneness undone is a death. So the only way out is one side loses their life.
Sethi and Ferriss argued that prenups do not prioritize money in marriage. Sethi said that he was about guarding what he had built before he married and didn’t want to risk that. He thought it wise to plan for the worst case scenario.
Of course he would want to do that. For the worst case happens all of the time. And anyone in their right mind would want to protect what wealth, business, value, etc. that they created before their wedding day, even from their spouse. The reasoning is rational and makes complete sense. And I can understand it and empathize with him.
But I think there is another way to view marriage.
We tend to look at marriage (and all of life) from the angle of life. What we have done, what we are doing, what we will do. We want to make sure that we protect ourselves in our day-to-day living. And a prenup is a natural outcome of that mindset. But I don’t think that is the way life should be lived, especially in marriage.
Life ends. We all die. And death levies the highest tax. It takes all of our earthly possessions–and gives nothing in return. You are stripped bare.
And when I look at marriage from that lens, I see the world differently. It’s clearer and simpler than seeing it from the angle of life. When I consider my marriage from my deathbed, I don’t think about my wealth and businesses, let alone trying to protect them. I wonder if, and hope that, I spent my life well, working to bestow on my wife and our children a lavish love. Because, at the end of life, what is really going to matter? My money? My net worth? My security? No. My relationships, my conduct, my faith, and how I’m remembered are the things that will matter.
I’m not saying we should be fools and foolish, that we can trust everyone and prance about throwing hundreds in the air like we are the money fairy, and that we can assume everyone is good natured and trustworthy. People steal. People lie. People connive. And spouses are people. And when it comes to money, it often brings out the worst in all of us. I know too well.
My extended family stole from my mom, from me. It was when we were at our most vulnerable. After my dad died, they forced my mom to sell my dad’s company to them at an unfair price and guilted her to forfeit cash and outright took what wasn’t theirs.
That’s been seared into my memory. That wound never completely heals. It makes you vigilant with your wealth no matter your net worth. That story went with me into my marriage.
And I admit that I had not accumulated the level of assets that Sethi nor Ferriss had when I got married. But what I had, I guarded like a momma bear her cubs. A claw was always ready to tear open any threat.
But when we are in a protectionism mindset, we are thinking from the perspective of life. As I said, I find that marriage is better served through the lens of death. When I die, I want to be surrounded by my wife, my children, and (Lord-willing) their children. And I want them to know that money was never something that I allowed to be more important than them; that I had no exit plan from our family; that I treasured them more than life itself; that money was a mere tool to serve them and others; that death was my only termination clause.
I’m inspired by Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom. He surrendered his comforts of paradise, his ultimate power, his unmitigated security, his unlimited wealth and walked into death’s claws to love us. He bore the punishment for our sins to fulfill his promise to us, to wed us, to win us. He gave away everything to gain us. He considered us greater than anything else, even his life.
Love and marriage are difficult, borderline impossible. Often, it may not even seem rationale.
But through the lens of death, it is true wealth.
Nice post John. I can tell a lot of emotions went into the writing.
Thank you, Linda! It’s hard for me not to be emotional about family.
That’s a good thing. Important.